Review: Laura Dean Keep Breaking Up with Me by Mariko Tamaki

Laura Dean Keep Breaking Up with Me by Mariko Tamaki

Laura Dean Keep Breaking Up with Me by Mariko Tamaki, illustrated by Rosemary Valero-O’Connell (9781250312846)

Freddy is dating the most popular girl at school. She is exactly the person you want to date, pretty, sexy, charming, and makes you feel like the center of her world. Until you aren’t, which happens pretty often. Laura keeps on cheating on Freddy, breaking up with her, and then asking Freddy to get back together. Freddy knows that it’s not ideal and so do all of her friends. When the two girls break up again, Freddy’s best friend Doodle encourages her to see a medium (who is also a great dungeon master too) to get advice. The medium agrees with all of Freddy’s friends, break up with Laura Dean. But it’s not that easy and as their relationship heats up again, Freddy risks her friendships to continue to be with the intoxicating Laura Dean.

This graphic novel beautifully captures a captivating but toxic romantic and sexual relationship. Tamaki has created several brilliant characters who avoid any kind of stereotype and are written as individuals. In particular, I appreciated Doodle, one of the only teen characters I have seen in a novel that avoids using a cell phone. As a parent of this type of teen, it is refreshing to see a character do this so organically. Fans of Dungeons & Dragons or other tabletop gaming will love the DM as a medium and the use of gaming as a way to connect on multiple levels.

The art is a great complement to the story line. Filled with touches of pink, the art takes small moments and tiny focal points to tell a robust story. Just the images of Freddy’s shoes walking alone after a break up speak so beautifully of loneliness. The characters themselves are also vividly depicted in the art, from Freddy alone on her rumpled sheets to Doodle’s body language when she is being neglected.

An exceptional LGBTQ graphic novel that talks openly about toxicity in relationships and the importance of friendships. Appropriate for ages 15-18.

Reviewed from copy provided by First Second.

 

Review: The Things She’s Seen by Ambelin and Ezekiel Kwaymullina

The Things She's Seen by Ambelin and Ezekiel Kwaymullina

The Things She’s Seen by Ambelin and Ezekiel Kwaymullina (9781984848789)

Beth died in a car accident and now her father is the only one who can see and hear her. He is struggling with his grief, and Beth knows that the best thing for him is to get back to work as a police detective and solve a mystery. Luckily, he is sent on what should be a simple case in a small Australian town. A dead body was found in the aftermath of a fire at a foster care home. But the mystery isn’t that simple as a witness comes forward and speaks to Beth and her father. The witness, Catching, tells an unbelievable tale of almost dying in a flood, her mother sacrificing herself, and then being taken by unusual beings to be fed upon. Still, Beth and her father realize that Catching is telling the truth if they can just figure out what that is and how it ties into the mystery itself.

This #ownvoices tale shares the dark truth of residential schools for Aboriginal children in Australia and the aftermath of entire lost generations. The authors create an amazing story by mixing modern police procedural with a ghost story that vividly shows Aboriginal storytelling and beliefs. The resulting book is one unlike anything you have read before.

From Catching’s poetic and disturbing tale of losing her colors and then finding a way back using the women in her family as points of strength to Beth’s own process of helping her father and then finding a way to let go to Crow’s story of truth and revenge, this is a book that celebrates the power of Aboriginal women to find their voices on the way to getting justice. The three Aboriginal young women at the heart of the book are studies in various kinds of strength, shining on the page and not allowing their light or colors to dim.

Unusual and incredibly powerful and moving, this genre-bending novel is one of a kind. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from copy provided by Knopf Books for Young Readers.

 

2019 Locus Award Finalists

The Locus Science Fiction Foundation has announced the 2019 finalists for the Locus Awards. The winners will be announced in late June at the Locus Awards Weekend. There is one category that covers young adult fiction. Here are the finalists in that category:

YOUNG ADULT BOOK FINALISTS

The Agony House by Cherie Priest and Tara O’Connor

The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton

Cross Fire by Fonda Lee

The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

The Gone Away Place by Christopher Barzak

Half-Witch by John Schoffstall

Impostors by Scott Westerfeld

Mapping the Bones by Jane Yolen

Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman

 

Review: With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo

With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo

With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo (9780062662835)

In her second novel, Acevedo cements her place as a master author for teen readers. Emoni’s life has not been easy, getting pregnant as a freshman in high school was not part of her plan. Now as a senior, her life is filled with work, caring for her daughter, and taking care of her Abuela. There is room too for her love of cooking, but not enough room for big dreams for her future. When a culinary class is offered for the first time at her school, Emoni hesitates to apply even though she longs to. The class includes a trip to Spain, which Emoni knows she will not be able to afford, nor could she leave her daughter or ask that of her grandmother. Still, she signs up for the class. It’s not easy, learning to not improvise in the kitchen but follow the rules and recipes. She can’t add the small touches that make her cooking magic. As Emoni opens herself up to new experiences, her life begins to open in other ways too, allowing herself to find romance and new connections.

In this novel, Acevedo gifts us with a story in prose where you can see her skill as a poet shining through often, taking words and making them dazzling. The fierceness of her first book is still here, with some of the short chapters taking on issues like racism and poverty. The entire work is such an incredible read. Emoni takes up a place in your heart and mind, insisting on being heard and believed.

The portrayal of a young mother who is ferociously caring and loving of her daughter, is something not seem often in our society. Emoni stands as a character speaking for women, a teen caring not only for her daughter but also standing alongside her grandmother as they care for one another. Throughout the book, there is a strong sense of community and extended family that are supportive of Emoni and her dreams.

A stellar and important read, let’s hope this one wins more awards and attention for Acevedo. Appropriate for ages 16-18.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by HarperTeen.

Review: Comics Will Break Your Heart by Faith Erin Hicks

Comics Will Break Your Heart by Faith Erin Hicks

Comics Will Break Your Heart by Faith Erin Hicks (9781626723641)

When Miriam meets Weldon at her bookstore job, she doesn’t realize at first who he is. The grandson of the creator of the TomorrowMen comic book empire, he is wealthy and lives is California. Miriam on the other hand comes from a family without a lot of money and is trying to figure out how to leave her small town to go to college. The two of them have a connection though since it was Miriam’s grandfather who drew the first TomorrowMen comics. As the two of them navigate the perils of two families who have battled one another in court, Miriam becomes more sure of what she wants from her life. Weldon, stuck in rural Canada to get his life back on track, tries his best to be more stable and less impulsive. The two teenagers drift in and out of connection with one another but can’t seem to quite leave one another entirely. It’s Romeo and Juliet reworked to focus on modern comic geeks.

This is Hicks’ first novel, having created several comic books for children and teens. Readers who themselves identify as being “geeks” and in particular comic book geeks, will thoroughly enjoy the banter about comics, the obsessive nature of geek love, and the beauty of two geeks finding one another despite the world trying to keep them apart. The book is filled with humor and yet still offers deep emotions and a look at how one generation’s decisions echo forward to their offspring.

The book takes a look at growing up in rural Canada and has quite a few nods to Canadian life throughout the text. The desire to get out of a rural setting and move to a new place where you don’t know everyone is also an emotion that a lot of rural teens will relate to easily. Add in the appeal of comic books and a visit to Comic-Con and this is a book with a large audience who will root for the two teens.

A funny and warm look at geek love, this is a charming teen novel. Appropriate for ages 12-15.

Reviewed from copy provided by Roaring Brook Press.

Review: Mike by Andrew Norriss

Mike by Andrew Norriss

Mike by Andrew Norriss (9781338285369)

Floyd is a tennis star, destined to become one of the great British tennis players. At age thirteen though, something changes. He starts to see “Mike” a person whom only he can see. Mike first appears at tennis matches and gets steadily more involved, even stopping Floyd from playing physically at one point. Floyd’s parents, who are both very much supportive of his tennis, take him to a sports injury clinic where he is placed in therapy. Floyd learns that Mike is a projection of something that Floyd is repressing. To Floyd’s horror though, it seems that Mike won’t let him keep playing tennis and Floyd will need to admit his own deep desire to do something else. But what?

Norriss has created a short and focused novel that is entirely marvelous. He writes with a playful nature that allows readers to really cheer for Floyd as he navigates his own desires and figures out what will actually make him happy. Nicely, Norriss allows the entire story to be told and readers stay with Floyd and Mike for some time, experiencing all of the times that Mike appears in Floyd’s life. By the end, Mike is the hero of the story, or is it Floyd all along!

A great main character gives this teen novel real heart. Floyd is a tennis prodigy, but completely at the mercy of his destiny when we meet him. He isn’t questioning what he really wants to do, whether tennis is still fun, or why he works so very hard to be the best. The pace of his training is beautifully offset by the slow pace of Floyd’s therapy and navigating life afterwards. Still, that rich sense of humor keeps the book moving and the unique perspective of who Mike really is offers a refreshing take on life.

A fresh sports novel filled with fish, invisible friends, and frankness. Appropriate for ages 12-15.

Reviewed from ARC provided by David Fickling Books.

2019 Hugo Award Finalists

The finalists for the 2019 Hugo Awards have been announced, including the ones for the Lodestar Award for Best Young Adult Book. Here are the YA finalists:

The Belles, by Dhonielle Clayton

Children of Blood and Bone, by Tomi Adeyemi

The Cruel Prince, by Holly Black

Dread Nation, by Justina Ireland

The Invasion, by Peadar O’Guilin

Tess of the Road, by Rachel Hartman

Review: Kiss Number 8 by Colleen AF Venable and Ellen T. Crenshaw

Kiss Number 8 by Colleen AF Venable and Ellen T. Crenshaw

Kiss Number 8 by Colleen AF Venable and Ellen T. Crenshaw (9781250196934)

Mads has two best friends, Cat who drags her to hear bands that she’s never heard of, and her father. Every Sunday, Mads joins her father for minor league baseball games and other evenings they watch their favorite TV shows together. Mads’ mother is often left out of their father-daughter time together and as the book progresses, it looks like Mads may be headed for her parents divorcing. But it’s all about a secret that her father is keeping from her, something to do with a large check sent to Mads and a grandfather she never met. As the secrets start to be revealed, Mads begins to learn more about herself as well and just who she really wants to kiss.

This graphic novel is amazing, particularly when one sees it was written by one person and drawn by another. The entire book is one cohesive whole with art that is both playful but also emotionally rich when the story calls for it. The writing is strong and the story is complex. Venable includes religion throughout the book, allowing space for questioning beliefs, particularly around LGBTQ issues. Those themes enrich the entire graphic novel, creating tension in the family, offering honesty to replace secrets, and giving sources of pride rather than disdain. Venable doesn’t offer easy resolution to these issues and the way that they impact generations of a family.

A stellar graphic novel for teens that is filled with LGBTQ pride. Appropriate for ages 13-17.

Reviewed from copy provided by First Second.

 

Review: Lovely War by Julie Berry

Lovely War by Julie Berry

Lovely War by Julie Berry (9780451469939)

The author of the Printz Honor winner, The Passion of Dolssa, returns with another spectacular teen read. In a novel wrapped with the attention of the Greek gods Aphrodite, Ares and Hephaestus, a love story for the ages is told. The story is set during World War I and moves from England to France and directly into the trenches and fog of war. It is the story of Hazel and James, two people who found one another right before James is being shipped off to the front. Without even a kiss to say goodbye, the two are separated. Hazel joins the YMCA volunteers in France, intent to offer her music to the troops as a way of staying close to James. There she meets Colette, a Belgian girl who lost her entire family and fiance to the Germans as they razed her town. Aubrey is an African-American pianist who shares his love of music on the sly with Hazel and Colette and eventually falls hard for Colette. Still, they are in the midst of a war in the early part of the 20th century, so racism and danger is everywhere. As the couples are separated, it is clear they may never find one another again.

Berry has created a pure delight of a book. I lingered over this one, not wanting it to end and yet rather desperate to find out what happens to all of the characters. Berry creates characters who are deep and interesting. In this book, she uses music and architecture to create shared languages that bring people together. Her use of the Greek gods to tell the tale is particularly effective, giving the story a sense of dread that one of these beloved characters will be lost in the war.

Berry’s writing is exquisite. Even as she creates a quintessential romance on the pages, there is nothing fluffy about it. Each moment, each kiss, each long look filled with meaning is given space and a sense of importance. The book is written so that one feels along with the characters, understands falling in love and doing it again and again as life deals new blows.

An incredible piece of historical fiction. This is one of the best of the year. Appropriate for ages 14-adult.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Viking Books for Young Readers.